WASHINGTON (CN) — In an effort to whittle down the number of outstanding asylum cases at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Biden administration presented a blueprint Wednesday for a new system to handle such claims.
Today these claims are directed automatically to the U.S. courts system managed by the Department of Justice. Amid an unprecedented backlog of roughly 1.3 million cases, however, asylum seekers are left waiting years to find out if the United States will let them stay even if an asylum officer from the Citizenship and Immigration Services arm of the Department of Homeland Security has determined that they demonstrated a “credible fear” of persecution if returned to their home country, but only for for certain factors such as race, religion or nationality.
Under the new system, immigration courts will only consider appeals from individuals who have been denied asylum, withholding of removal or other protections under the Convention Against Torture protections.
The Justice Department explained another change that expands the criteria used to determine who qualifies for parole before a credible-fear determination is made. While the existing rule covers medical emergencies and law enforcement objectives, the proposed rule says Homeland Security can also grant parole when “detention is unavailable or impracticable.”
Justice Department and Homeland Security officials said Wednesday that the proposed change marks the Biden administration’s attempt to create “a fair, orderly, and humane immigration system.”
“These proposed changes will significantly improve DHS’s and DOJ’s ability to more promptly and efficiently consider the asylum claims of individuals encountered at or near the border, while ensuring fundamental fairness,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “Individuals who are eligible will receive relief more swiftly, while those who are not eligible will be expeditiously removed.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland likewise called the move “a step forward in our effort to make the asylum process fairer and more expeditious.”
“This rule will both reduce the caseload in our immigration courts and protect the rights of those fleeing persecution and violence,” Garland added.
Homeland Security aims to hire 1,000 asylum officers and 1,000 support staff to implement the new policy. Before it goes into effect, the proposal must go through a public comment period.
Biden’s proposal comes just four days after a federal judge ordered the Biden administration to restore the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols, better known as the Remain in Mexico program.
Launched in 2019, the protocols forced more than 70,000 immigrants to remain in Mexico while they waited for their asylum claims to be processed. As they waited in Mexico, taking shelter in makeshift tent camps near the border, immigrant advocates say they became targets of extortion, kidnapping, robberies and assaults by drug cartels and even Mexican law enforcement.
Biden suspended the program on his first day in office, but a Trump-appointed judge found last week that the Homeland Security officials “failed to engage in reasoned decision making” when it did so.
The challenge to the protocols stems from a suit against the Biden administration that Texas and Missouri filed in April, claiming that public service costs like health care, education, welfare and law enforcement all go up if undocumented immigrants are allowed to wait out their asylum claims in the United States. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk stayed his order until Aug. 20 to let the Biden administration appeal it.
Trump had previously hailed the remain-in-Mexico policy as a key component of his efforts to end immigration chaos at the southwestern border, claiming it had ended the “catch and release” of immigrants coming to the U.S., making meritless asylum claims, then being released in the U.S. to await their court hearings, sometimes for years due to a large backlog of asylum cases.
Mayorkas said back in February that the Biden administration is committed to rebuilding the nation’s immigration system from the ground up in a way that will allow officials to process asylum claims more quickly.